Currently, it is possible to manually track emotions using a variety of apps which allow users to indicate how they are feeling, add notes, and keep track of emotions over time. This method is dependent on the user checking in, though, and has a narrow perspective on the overall picture.
However, several tech companies are working on methods which can enable wearable smart devices to monitor emotions more seamlessly through integrated analysis of a series of physical cues and even information from social media.
A Surge in Wearable Well-Being Monitors
There are several wearables on the market that purport to help us monitor our mental well-being in addition to our physical fitness. More of these devices go into development with each passing quarter. What do these devices look like and what do they have to offer?
Zenta by Vinaya Labs
Zenta, a smartwatch developed by Vinaya, is the current leading wearable device that uses biological cues to monitor emotion. The aim of Zenta is to be a well-being tracker, as opposed to just a fitness or lifestyle tracker like many other wearable devices on the market right now. The inconspicuous device is packed full of biometric sensors which give the device insight into the wearer’s emotions.
The Zenta smartwatch. Image courtesy of VINAYA.
Vinaya Labs released a report (PDF) which outlines how changes in heart rate, skin conductivity, and skin temperature are physiological cues for emotion. As most are probably aware, heart rate will vary according to stress levels. Additionally, variations in skin conductivity during perspiration are yet another indicator.
These cues, in conjunction with integrating analysis of known responses to different emotions (happiness, anger, arousal, sadness), can be used by a device and app to determine the emotions of the user. This is paired with local weather information (because some forms of depression may be linked to lack of sunlight), as well as with social media activity.
Moodmeasure is one of the companies that chooses to measure GSR (galvanic skin response) in wearables. GSR is essentially a measure of the electrical conductance of skin, linked to the amount of sweat on the skin and—according to some—linked to emotional state.
The Moodmetric ring. Image courtesy of Moodmetric.
The rings are Bluetooth-enabled for tracking and can store up to 270 hours of data. They're low-power, contain a lithium polymer battery, and charge via a mini-USB.
Sence by Eugene Nayshtetik
The Sence wearable focuses on the use of heartbeat sensors to interpret stress and emotion. In the informational sections of this popular Kickstarter campaign, Nayshtetik cites studies that link heartrate to self-regulation and emotional state, especially HRV (heart rate variability).
The Sence wearable. Image courtesy of Sence.
You may notice that many of these wearables focus on sensors that are already incorporated into a majority of fitness wearables. The major difference for most of them is the emphasis on emotional well-being over physical health, interpreting the data from the sensors and relaying it to the wearer in the context of emotional well-being. Their related apps, usually synced to the wearer's smartphone, reports the data as related to stress levels, tiredness, and even named emotions.
Sence, for example, reports data as related to the specific emotions identified in Plutchik's wheel of emotions. Moodmetric, on the other hand, presents its tracked data as a "Moodflower" displayed on a clockface. Most of these apps offer long-term tracking of the data gathered by the wearable device.
Artificial Emotional Intelligence
So you’ve been tracking your emotions using the data available on your wearable device—now what?
Similar to how fitness trackers can help coach people on their physical activities or sleep trackers can help users create better sleep habits, artificial emotional intelligence can help people better understand the relationship between their day-to-day life activities and their feelings. These small moments of awareness can build up into very important, potentially life-changing patterns to observe.
Some wearables pair with third party apps to provide sleep monitoring. Image courtesy of Sleep as Android.
For example, people are more likely to make impulsive decisions when stressed or sad. If your wearable device was able to tell you that you are feeling a little high-strung or down, you might be able to take that into account before indulging in food that’s bad for your health or making expensive impulse purchases. You may wait until you are in a better frame of mind to make big decisions.
Alternatively, it can also tell you when an activity increases your emotional well-being, perhaps encouraging you to participate in that activity more often. Long-term emotional tracking can also be a useful tool for helping adjust lifestyle. Mental health is at the forefront of many well-being campaigns and there remains such overwhelming stigma for many people that it prevents people first from noticing a problem and secondly from seeking appropriate help when they realize there is a problem.
While artificial emotional intelligence via wearable devices is no substitute for a qualified professional, it could certainly serve as a tool for individuals who are not currently self-monitoring but wish to develop this habit or who may not yet be ready to seek additional help. Additionally, the use of these devices may help normalize the process of monitoring and supporting mental and emotional wellbeing, helping to erode the stigma that exists.
As we move forward, we may begin to see our wearable devices go from being simply fitness trackers and social media devices to full-on life coaches. This stands to be a positive change for many, even if it's just improving the awareness we have for our stress levels.
One thing to keep in mind is that, regardless of how accurate or scientifically supported these emotion trackers are, they may impact our lives in ways we may not anticipate. Data from wearables is now a hot commodity for businesses to track their employees' wellness and, in the near future, insurance companies may adjust rates based on wearable fitness data. If that's the coming trend, you have to wonder—do we really want our wearables tracking emotions, too?
Regardless, the fact remains that engineers are developing these devices as we speak and we're likely to see more of them in the future.